HC Deb 15 August 1913 vol 56 cc3267-72

An Insurance Committee may pay out of the administration fund under their control as general expenses incurred by them in the execution of their duties under the National Insurance Act any sum, not exceeding ten pounds in any one year, as a subscription to the funds of any Association of Insurance Committees formed in Scotland or England or Wales whose objects are approved by the Insurance Commissioners, as well as any reasonable expenses of the attendances of representtatives, not exceeding in any case four, at meetings of such associations, on a scale to be approved by the Commissioners.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

Secretary to the Treasury, the Report of the Committee might be considered. The magnitude of the problem can be better considered later, and it will be wiser to leave it until we come to deal with the whole question. We in Ireland are most anxious that in county boroughs and industrial areas medical benefit should be provided at the earliest possible moment; but the difficulty we are in is that we cannot apply medical benefit to the whole of Ireland without considering the wants of the rural districts; and I can tell the Committee that we would not settle that matter if the Committee were to sit for the next three weeks. I submit that in view of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, the course suggested should be followed.

Question put, "That the proposed Clause be read a second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 17; Noes, 28.

The new Clause which stands in my name has for its purpose the facilitating of the administration of the Act. It permits of the Insurance Committees meeting together from time to time in the course of the year. It is impossible for them under the Act to apply any funds for the purpose of paying this small contribution to meet the expenses of such meetings, and it is necessary to give them power to make a small contribution towards this purpose. I ask the Committee to accept the Clause in a form slightly altered from that in which it appears on the Paper, and I will read the Clause in the form in which I intend to move it:— An Insurance Committee may pay"—I take out the words "out of the administration fund under their control"—and go, on "as general expenses incurred by them in the execution of their duties"—but leaving out the words "under the National Insurance Act" and continue "any sum, not exceeding ten pounds in any one year as a subscription to the fund of any association of Insurance Committees"—then I leave out the words "formed in Scotland or England or Wales," and continue "whose objects are approved by the Insurance Commissioners, as well as any reasonable expenses of the attendances of representatives, not exceeding in any case four, at meetings of such associations, on a scale to be approved by the Commissioners.

I hope that this new Clause will commend itself to the Committee, because we have already had useful experience of the meeting together of similar bodies in school-board associations and in county council associations. In Scotland we have had special Acts passed to enable county councils and burgh councils to defray the expense of meetings held for considering questions which are of common interest. I submit to the Committee that there is a very strong case here for the various Insurance Committees at the earliest moment seeking to standardise their methods of administration, and having an opportunity of discussing together the various problems of interest which require to be solved at the commencement of the Act. It will be a great advantage to the whole country if these Insurance Committees can meet two or three times in the course of the year, and if funds can be made available for their purpose. I move the Clause in the form on the Paper as slightly altered, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to accept it in that form.

Question put, "That the Clause, as modified, be read a second time."


I should like to say before you put the Question that there are remote counties of Scotland where it is not too easy to hold meetings of Insurance Committees, and also that the expenses of committee meetings are decidedly serious. It will be highly desirable that all the Insurance Committees in Scotland should be able not only to meet themselves, but to assist those who are under more difficult circumstances to meet whenever the public services require. The object of my hon. Friend's proposal is to make the charge a more or less general one for the whole of Scotland. I have great pleasure in supporting the proposal, and I think I can assure the Committee that it will also have the support of the Insurance Committees in Scotland.


I do not wish to waste time if the Amendment is going to be accepted. It is not a particularly Scottish question, but already Scotland is in advance, and ha formed an association for this purpose. Very useful work is done by similar societies such as the Convention of the Royal Burghs and the Association of School Boards, and I think we should not be in error in allowing a small subscription to be given for this purpose. We are justified in saying that there will be universal support to this concession in Scotland.


I cannot support the new Clause. It is quite true that in Scotland an association of this kind has been established and there is also the Convention of the Royal Burghs and the Association of School Boards, but the expenses are not defrayed in this case from the ratepayers but from the taxpayers. In the other case the expenses come from the funds of the burghs and they are responsible for it. These associations include the school boards and there have been various other conferences, but I think they have cost a great deal more money than they have been worth from a public point of view. [An HON MEMBER: "In the Royal burghs there is an option."] As a rule, certainly; but this has never been adopted for England. It is perfectly unnecessary and would leave the way open to a large and dangerous expense. At all events, surely it is fair to allow some more experience of the working of the Act before we go to this expense, which may be very considerable! It is unlimited in regard to expenses. Although the Amendment says the subscriptions shall not exceed £10 in any one year, it goes on to provide for what are called "any reasonable expenses of the attendance of representatives." All that is included. The School Board Association has meant a very considerable expense which, in my opinion, has not been repaid by the amount of good it does.


My hon. Friend who has just spoken is really troubling himself quite unnecessarily. This is only a permissive power to those good people. It is quite true that the funds are limited, and I can quite understand why, as a Scotch Member, he should desire to husband them very carefully. The proposition comes from Scottish Members mainly, and we have had at least three representations already to that effect. Certainly the Scottish Members wish to have it. We have had conferences summoned by the Commissioners in connection with the administration of benefits by the Insurance Committees, and in that case the expenses of the representatives are charged against the fund; beyond that we have these other conferences which have been referred to. Municipal boroughs already have power to confer upon those lines. The school boards have power to hold conferences, and to provide for the attendance of their representatives. I believe that I myself acted as representative more than once in the case of the London School Board in the time of my membership, and certain county councils have also got powers. I think when we are bringing into force this great experiment of intervention in the social life of the people, that great good would probably accrue from the comparison of opinion and the varying experience of these Insurance Committees, and that it would be desirable to spend up to £10 a year upon it.


Personal expenses?


Yes, but £10 is the general contribution. I think we will spend the money wisely by taking part in those conferences, and that it would be for the benefit of the insured person. We should find the result of these conferences would be all to the good, and therefore I accept the proposal in the form proposed.


I have put down a similar Amendment further on on the Paper at the request of several of the County Committees. It is quite true, as the last speaker stated, that a very large number of the county councils have power to form associations. The municipalities have also the power, and so also have the education committees. I should like to point out that the approved societies have their own conferences with a view to discussing the working of this Act, and I think it is only fair that the County Committees should be allowed to form an association so as to endeavour to bring about uniformity with regard to the working and the administration of the benefits of the Act. Therefore I am glad that the Government propose to accept the Clause.


I do not believe the association will do very much good, as I do not think that such meetings are really needed. It is quite possible to exchange views and to secure uniformity of administration through the medium of the Insurance Commissioners. The money which will be spent is not very large, but it might be put to far better use. I would very much better like to see it made a contribution to hospitals, or some other useful work. As the money is not great, and as there is no very great vital objection to these Insurance Committees meeting together if they wish, I do not think it is necessary to resist the Clause.


I do not think anyone can suggest that there is any demand for this. I have been all over the country meeting many members of these Insurance Committees and I have never heard of it from them. I have interviewed these members of Insurance Committees and they have had meetings but they have not asked for this. I should think it would be much better if it was brought forward voluntarily rather than as a suggestion from headquarters. If they themselves formed their association then would be the time to consider it. The district councils, the county councils and boards of guardians have certain conferences but in that case they have all the same point of view. But these committees are composed of various constituent parts representing the friendly orders, the trades unions, the other societies, doctors, women, and so on, and if they went to a conference, they would go, I think, to represent their own particular point of view. I do not think we ought to pass this proposal to-day, although it might be necessary if there was a general demand later. I think we should spend our time discussing some amendments which the insured persons want. This is really a waste of time.

Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.